Monday, May 25, 2020

a scene from this past Saturday

I walked out to the Jamshil Bridge and back this past Saturday, after my unpleasant meeting.

I slapped the above pic up over at Instapundit, and one guy gave a pointed reply:

South Korea put ankle bracelets on Covid patients. They traced all their contacts with their phones. That is the only way they have flattened the curve. None of this would be legal in the USA. We can’t compare apples to oranges if we can not ever recreate the apple here because we can not use the same techniques.

Annoyed by his illiterate spelling of "cannot" as "can not," I replied to this joker at length:


If I understand you correctly, you're not saying you're necessarily against certain draconian measures; you're saying that there would be an uproar if someone tried to implement these measures. Is that a fair reading? I don't want to go haring off after a straw man.

I see two major claims in your response:

(1) Korean authorities have used ankle bracelets to track infected patients.
(2) Tracking measures that violate civil liberties (specifically, ankle bracelets) wouldn't work in the US.

Business Insider has written a series on South Korean measures. Here's what one article says:

To wrangle the nightclub-linked outbreak, officials tried to get in touch with every single person who'd visited any of the clubs where the infected people went. That was possible because bars and nightclubs in Seoul required partygoers leave their names and contact information before entering, Time reported.

But not all of them left accurate or complete information, so police worked with telecommunications companies to use cellphone data to confirm who was in Itaewon that weekend.

According to Seoul's mayor, officials were able to get in touch with about half of nightclub visitors by May 10.

South Korean contact tracers also use interviews, GPS tracking, credit-card records, and video surveillance to trace people's travel histories, The Washington Post reported.

It doesn't stop there: After a clear picture of where an infected person went is established, the South Korean government then publishes that anonymized information on a public website so others can check to see if they have been exposed.

Unlike China and the US, South Korea never implemented large-scale lockdowns, though it did shut down schools and impose a curfew in some cities.

According to a South Korean government report called "Flattening the curve on COVID-19: The Korean Experience," more restrictive measures weren't needed because the government could easily alert people about whether they've come near someone who tested positive.

Officials in the country are constantly updating national and local government websites that track the numbers of cases and residents tested. That way, they can communicate to the public how many people are infected in each geographic area in real time. Then smartphone apps send people emergency text alerts about spikes in infections in their local region.

This is generally how the ROK government has been handling things. I know because I live here. Ankle bracelets might be being used, but if they are, they're rare, i.e., they're not the first go-to method for contact tracing—the above-cited methods are. I've also heard the authorities are using wrist bracelets and requiring incoming visitors to the country to have a tracking app placed in their cell phones. If you're contending that these measures violate basic civil rights in some way, I won't argue with you. As a long-time resident of South Korea, however, I've been completely untouched by any of these measures. At best, they exist at the periphery of my (and most other people's) consciousness, so I wouldn't make the mistake of assuming ankle bracelets are somehow representative of how the ROK is handling the crisis. That's a wild-eyed exaggeration. As for a person's right to privacy: when infected people are found, the authorities don't doxx them. Instead, announcements are sent out via text message saying that a "confirmed infected person" (hwakjin-ja in Korean) was in such-and-such district and visited such-and-such places while there. The ROK is trying to strike a balance between being draconian and having a light touch.

You might be interested to know that some US states are, in fact, considering using ankle bracelets.

Reuters: "To keep COVID-19 patients home, some U.S. states weigh house-arrest tech."

Miami Herald: "Ankle monitors, wrist bands, cell phones: How states might track coronavirus patients"

So maybe you're right to point the finger at South Korea and talk about apples and oranges, but it seems to me that it's becoming more apples-to-apples by the minute. Does the fact that US states are also considering ROK-style measures make it right? No, of course not. Although, again, I gather that your argument has less to do with rightness and wrongness and more to do with how Americans might react to such measures.

Which brings me to your second claim: Americans would #Resist if told to wear ankle bracelets.

Would they, though?

From my faraway perch in Seoul, it seems to me that huge swaths of the country have already proved willing to submit meekly to any authority. I think you have an overly optimistic view of many of our fellow Americans. Human behavioral tendencies tend to fall along a bell curve; most people are average Joes and Janes who aren't going to take up arms at the first whiff of oppression. If anything, most of those good folks will take up arms only after it's too late, like the overused metaphor of the frog slowly being boiled to death.

This isn't to say that many American's wouldn't resist oppression outright, but from what I'm seeing, the folks in the blue states seem mostly okay with the restrictions being placed upon them. In that context, what's an ankle bracelet? Many of us are willing to trade freedom for more security; that's a sad fact of life. Consider, too, the "Karens" who are willing to rat on their noncompliant neighbors. Such people would love ankle bracelets.

If you can argue that most Americans are, in fact, resisting government oppression with all their might, I'll happily concede your point. But observation and common sense lead me to believe that Americans are as human as everyone else, and they'll trade their freedom away if it means being safer... or at least feeling safer.

So the burden of proof is on you: show me the massive #Resistance—on the scale of millions—of people who are tired of government oppression (especially in the blue states), and show me, too, that ankle bracelets for the infected in the US are an absolute impossibility. Show me those two things, and I'll happily concede your point that freedom-loving Americans would never tolerate the contact-tracing methods allegedly used in South Korea.

Miller hasn't replied yet, but because he's a man, I expect him to (1) reply with greater emotional force because, well, now it's a pissing contest; and (2) attempt to dodge the burden of proof in some way, because it's the male tendency to try to escape from boxes when feeling boxed in, and to counter stark A/B binary choices by stubbornly choosing Option C. Few men are brave enough, in arguments and discussions, to counter a point head-on; the dodge is much easier. I'm guilty of it myself.

UPDATE: still no reply from Miller. I think I swamped him with my prolixity. Or maybe he's just "Biden" his time.


John Mac said...

I can not understand why you bothered. *ahem* But, well done. I like the meme thingy you created. Would love to change blue states to the Philippines and post it here. Same logic applies.

Kevin Kim said...

I could whip an image up for you.